NASA Offers $750K for Conversion of CO2 on Mars

NASA has invited suggestions for turning the carbon dioxide on Mars into other usable molecules. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
NASA has invited suggestions for turning the carbon dioxide on Mars into other usable molecules. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

If you are a science nerd looking for some brain bending challenge, NASA’s latest competition is for you. The space agency has invited suggestions for turning the carbon dioxide on Mars into other usable molecules. And if you end up with a productive answer, you get to take home US$750,000 in cash.

The competition

NASA’s proposed Mars colonization program would require travel to the red planet to be as lean as possible, meaning that only a few necessary things can be taken. The agency will try to use the natural resources available on Mars to create things that would facilitate human habitation.

And CO2 is one such resource that NASA wants to convert into usable molecules on Mars. But rather than trying to come up with solutions all by themselves, the space agency decided to challenge the public and has set up a competition for this purpose.

will try to use the natural resources available on Mars to create things that would facilitate human habitation.

NASA will try to use the natural resources available on Mars to create things that would facilitate human habitation. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

“Help us discover ways to develop novel synthesis technologies that use carbon dioxide (CO2) as the sole carbon source to generate molecules that can be used to manufacture a variety of products, including ‘substrates’ for use in microbial bioreactors,” Yahoo quotes a NASA statement.

You can participate in the competition either as an individual or as a team. The final date of registration is set for January 24, 2019. Five participants will win US$250,000 in the first stage after their solutions are carefully assessed by experts. For Stage 2 of the competition, the participants will have to demonstrate that their solution can actually be implemented in Martian conditions. The winner of the final stage will be awarded US$750,000.

Martian settlements

The agency plans to set up human settlements on Mars by the 2030s. Deep space habitation facilities will first be established that will act as a stepping stone to the red planet. NASA wants the settlements to operate absolutely independently of any assistance from Earth.

“Like the Apollo program, we embark on this journey for all humanity. Unlike Apollo, we will be going to stay. In the next few decades, NASA will take steps toward establishing a human presence beyond Earth. We seek the capacity for people to work, learn, operate, and sustainably live beyond Earth for extended periods of time. Any journey to Mars will take many months each way and early return is not an option,” The Telegraph quotes the report.

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Before trying to establish settlements on Mars, NASA will send missions to either one of Mars’s moons or into orbit around the planet. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

NASA already has probes, like Curiosity, that have been studying the Martian surface for decades and have provided the agency with good enough information on how to establish settlements and survive on Mars. However, NASA will not be sending people onto the red planet on the first attempt.

Instead, it plans to first send astronauts into the area of space around our moon. Once it is proven that they are able to survive perfectly in those conditions, the agency will then send missions to either one of Mars’s moons or the orbit of Mars. And when finally the results from these missions come out positive, only then will the agency send humans to the surface of Mars.

NASA plans to use technologies like 3D printing and modular architecture to build up living quarters on the planet. The competition to convert CO2 might well give the space agency some new ideas on how to use Martian resources to help humans survive on the red planet.

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